Why does it take six months for a website to rank? We get asked this quite a bit. For the most part, it’s because there is a lag time of between 10 and 20 weeks before listings start to improve in search results. The exception to the rule is viral content—if users signal content is of superior value, and they do so quickly, search listings can improve in hours. Unfortunately, not every piece of content is going to go viral. Spammy, low-quality SEO can have a quick effect, but it tends to rapidly off again and will more often than not make things worse.

So forget the big claims of your SEO agency—reaching Google’s top page takes time, unless you hire Larry Page (Google’s founder), which sadly, you probably can’t. Search engines have evolved into supremely intelligent systems that consider hundreds of factors when evaluating a website or a piece of content. No SEO consultant or company in the world can tell you exactly when your website will make it to the top 10 results.

But we can give you an understanding of how search rankings work, and why it almost always takes at least six months to trigger visible changes to your search rankings.

Here are a few reasons why achieving sustainable search rankings takes time.

Bing and Google Serve Their Searchers, Not You

A search provider’s primary concern is its users, not you or any other business that’s fighting for a spot on the first page. The search engine’s goal is to provide the best user experience to its searchers; that means displaying the most relevant and high quality results for every search query. Both Bing and Google watch how people react to content before they decide how visible that content should be in results. Even when content has had a lot of SEO therapy, the content itself has to be spot-on.

This is why Google evaluates every piece of content on more than 200 ranking factors and ensures that only the best quality pages make it to the top 10.

The best way to make it to the first page is by aligning yourself with Google’s objective, which is to serve its users. But it’s not just about great content; other SEO factors also come into play. The combination of these factors takes time—that’s why it takes months to improve rankings for either an SEO campaign or an online reputation management (ORM) campaign.

Early Movers Have an Advantage

The age of a particular page or domain has a huge impact on its search rankings. According to a study by Ahrefs, the average age of the top 10 search results in Google Search is 2+ years. The same study shows that less than 5% of pages younger than 1 year make it to the top 10.

Clearly, a page becomes more credible and trustworthy in Google’s eyes as it gets older. Which is why it is highly improbable for a completely new piece of content or website to start ranking as soon as it is published unless it’s published by a very well-known brand or publication—or it goes viral.

Targeting the Right Keywords Requires Research

Keyword research is one of the pillars of SEO and, although it has evolved significantly over the years, it’s still a key factor in determining your search rankings.

You can’t create content unless you have the right keywords to target.

Keyword research is now more about targeting a particular topic and its closely related terminologies thanks to Google’s RankBrain algorithm, which ranks content based on topical relevance.

These changes have made keyword research a more sophisticated and time-consuming activity.

Creating Quality Content Takes Time

Gone are the days when you could hire a few hobbyists to write thin 500-word articles for your site and still rank on Google’s first page. When it comes to SEO, there’s no longer a substitute for quality content. It is one of Google’s primary considerations when evaluating and ranking a piece of content. Another study by Ahrefs found that the average piece of first-page content shows up for about 1,000 search terms. That means longer content will often fare better than short (thin) content. But for a page to rank with a large number of terms means search engines must test the content with a lot of different people and related searches. So it can take time for a page to rise to the top for a large number of terms.

Just about everyone knows that when your website gets backlinks from other reliable sites, Google considers them votes of confidence for the quality of your content. The more links your site has, the higher you’ll rank … generally.

Just a couple of years ago, acquiring high quality links wasn’t a big problem. However, Google now has some very strict guidelines about link building, and violating any of those rules can result in search engine penalties. The most prevalent penalty is having the link ignored. It’s an invisible Google penalty, but very effective.

Modern-day link building is a long and tedious process that involves content creation, guest blogging, outreach and influencer relationships. Naturally, doing all of this takes a lot of time and effort.

Social Media Also Impacts Rankings

Search engine rankings are not just about your position in Google Search anymore. Studies suggest that social signals also play a key role in determining your search rankings. The number of times your content is shared on social media and the length of the social conversations it triggers has a direct impact on your position in search engine result pages.

So social factors also impact the time it takes for content to rank in search results.

Summing Up

Be patient. Both ORM and SEO are long-term investments that require a lot of initial groundwork before your site can start ranking in the top 10. You need to view SEO as an ongoing investment instead of a one-time expense. Most of the time, you’ll start seeing returns on your SEO efforts within six months. After that, if the foundations of your SEO strategy are strong, your rankings can grow exponentially.